Kuechler

INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION REVOLUTION

 

 

Class meets Monday and Thursday 1:10-2:25 HW606/7 (Social Science Lab) -- 
HN C110 (first session and when announced)
Instructor can be reached Monday 4:00-5:00 HW 1628 -- Telephone: 772-5588
via e-mail (at all times) Manfred.Kuechler@hunter.cuny.edu

 

Note: This syllabus is a "hypertext" document. When viewed directly on the web (Hunter College's Electronic Reserve Shelf -- Eres), you can make use of the embedded links, i.e., a mouse click takes you directly to other documents (most of them residing away from Hunter College all over the US and beyond) that contain additional information. If you have a paper version, you cannot take advantage of this feature and will miss out. You can access Eres from the Hunter College home page (accessible from most computer labs on campus) or from any computer connected to the Internet and equipped with a web browser (like Netscape) by using the following address ("URL"):

http://maxweber.hunter.cuny.edu/eres/

Objective and Approach

This special topic seminar focuses on the rapid technological developments that are thoroughly changing the ways we seek and gather information and the way communication flows in our society. In particular, we will focus on the growing use of personal computers (work stations) and their linkage by what is currently known as the Internet. Some people refer to these technological opportunities as the information superhighway, others talk about life in cyberspace or cyberlife for short. Only a few years ago, the Internet was mostly used for basic e-mail among government agencies and academics and more extensively used only by a subculture of computer freaks. Now, the Internet has entered the life of the average American -- mostly via exponential growth of a particular Internet service, the World Wide Web (WWW).

This course combines practical explorations of various services provided by the Internet (e-mail, mailing lists, news groups, chat rooms, WWW, etc.) with sociological reflections on the effect of these changes on society. The goal of the practical part is to ensure that students become informed users before they reach conclusions about the social consequences of these developments.

Whether or not the label "revolution" is adequate will be one of the questions to be explored in this course:

There is no shortage of opinion on this subject. In sociological circles the culture critics seem to prevail. However, this seminar will largely bypass the ideological debate. Rather than rehashing what other people have said or written, we will focus on doing explorations on our own and then try to reach at least first conclusions (subject to future modifications based on additional knowledge gained).

More concretely, each student will investigate a particular area of everyday life (see list below) with respect to changes the new technologies have brought. Each student will use the web in the pursuit of specific practical tasks putting him/herself in the role of someone who tries to make the most of the newly available tools. At the same time, the web thus becomes the student's basic tool for information gathering -- and for the presentation of findings. Because, the results of these investigations will be summarized in a short document (paper) that itself will utilize web technology. Technically speaking, these documents will have to be in HTML format.

In the second phase of the class, the investigations of various areas of everyday life will be shared among the whole class. This way, each student can make him/herself quickly familiar with what the other students have found. Only then, we will try to reach some conclusions about the sociological implications of these changes; or, in other words, what cyberlifewill amount to.

The class, then, has three phases:


 Prerequisites

Students need to have basic familiarity with computers, in particular with using word processing software (e.g. WordPerfect) and with working in a Windows (3.x) environment using a mouse. Since current versions of popular software are much more attuned to the use of the Internet, we plan to take full advantage of this -- assuming that the software installation in the computer lab proceeds as planned. This, however, requires to work in the Windows 95 environment. Prior knowledge of Win95, however, is not expected.

Students should also know how to use their e-mail accounts and be comfortable with basic Web navigation. We will cover these topics in more detail, but this class is not recommended for computer novices.

Requirements

Students are expected to attend all classes and to devote a good deal of time to their projects. Just coming to class twice a week will not be enough. Access to a work station capable of running Netscape (or a similar web browser) is essential. Consequently, a student's schedule must be compatible with the opening hours of suitable computer labs on campus (e.g., the social science lab where we have class or the labs on the 10th floor of the North building). Hopefully, some of these labs will be open on Sundays (as in the spring semester), but -- most likely -- weekend hours and hours in the evenings will still be limited. If the use of the campus labs poses schedule problems, a student must have sufficient access to a suitable work station off campus. Time at the computer is crucial for this class. This is a hands-on, do-it-yourself class, so expect to spend quite a bit of time in front of a computer. Lack of computer access will not be accepted as an excuse for not meeting deadlines.

Yes, I realize that students with a suitable computer at home have a big advantage. And, yes, I have been working hard (and with some success) for extending lab hours on campus and I will continue to do so. But I also believe that it would be wrong to postpone teaching classes like this one till every student has the same access opportunities. I do ask you to be honest with yourself, take a good look at your other obligations (in school and outside), and then determine whether you are in a position to take this class this semester.

There will be no traditional in class exams. Rather, students will have to produce two papers:

In addition, several short assignments will be given during the first phase when students learn technical web skills. These assignments will account for the remaining 25% of the course grade.

Papers

First paper (web exploration): The task is to determine how certain areas of our lives are changing due to the advent of the Internet. For a particular area, the student should explore the access to information (amount, quality, diversity, timeliness, ease, monetary cost) and new or improved ways to communicate. Areas include -- in no particular order:

This list may be expanded during the first week of class based on suggestions by students. After a preference poll, the list will be narrowed down such that three to five students each will work on one of four or five selected areas (contingent upon final class size). While students may exchange hints and information on sources found, each studenthas to produce a summary document of his/her own.

This document shall summarize and evaluate the sources available on the Web for practical tasks in the assigned area of everyday life. It shall also point to specific sources (web sites) that appear as particularly positive, helpful, or promising and to sources that give rise to suspicion or caution. "Point to" means that the document will contain specific "hypertext links" that will allow other students to revisit the selected web sites quickly and to see for themselves. The basics of authoring such HTML documents will be discussed in the first phase of the class. With the current versions of leading word processing software like WordPerfect or MS Word this has become rather simple. Still, the goal here is not to produce something sleek and glossy (though that may be fun as well), but to produce a very basic but functional HTML document. The motto is: substance over form.

As a rule of thumb, these documents should not exceed four pages(when printed with Netscape, which amounts to 6-8 regular manuscript pages) and they should contain links to 6-8 selected web sites. However, the number of web sites is not important. Students are expected to explore selected sites in great depth and summarize their experience based on extended and repeated use of those sites. I am not looking for comprehensive site lists, but for a summary with well selected examples that serve to illustrate the general argument made in the paper.

A first outline of the paper is due Monday, September 29.This outline must contain a list of sites screened so far (including complete URLs) and a preliminary list of the sites you will focus on in your investigation along with reasons for these decisions. The outline need not be in HTML format, but, at minimum, it must be typed. In addition, you need to submit a "bookmark" file (a file containing the addresses -- URLs -- of the sites visited) on diskette or via e-mail attachment.

After having received feedback, you must submit a complete draft-- this time in HTML format -- by October 16. The final papers (HTML documents) are due on October 30. Papers not submitted on time will be downgraded, papers received after November 3 will receive no credit at all. All papers will be posted on the ERS for other students to access at their leisure -- beyond the (selected) class presentation in the second phase of this seminar. The student paper section of the ERS will be accessible to students in this class only. Successful papers will be more widely posted if the author (student) agrees.

Second paper: The second paper is a brief essay of approximately 1250 words (3-4 pages) as described in more detail above. While it should be based on the students' own project and a perusal of the documents produced by the other students, the emphasis for this paper is on reflection. It may contain speculations and conjectures. It will be graded on the consistency of the reasoning, not on the substance of the argument. So, it is important to argue your view well and not to worry about what my, the instructor's point of view is. I do not penalize students for disagreeing with me. This final paper is due Monday, December 15.

Textbook/Suggested Readings

There will be no textbook in the traditional sense for this class. For phase 1 (technical Internet skills), it may be helpful to purchase some reference book. However, books in this area become obsolete rather quickly and there are a great deal of titles to choose from. Any selection should be made in accordance with the individual student's background and future interests. So, I am very hesitant to offer a list of possible titles. Check the computer section of a large bookstore (several Barnes & Nobles stores carry a wide selection), browse with plenty of time at hand, and then decide.

In addition, there are quite a few primers and guides available on the web for free. Here are some leads to start your search on the web.

Zen and the Art of the Internet -- A Beginner's Guide to the Internet, First Ed., January 1992

A 'classic' text on the Internet by Brendan P. Kehoe. Things have developed much further in the last few years, but still good as an introduction for the novice and as a text to put things into historical perspective. You probably have to go to a "used books" store to get a hard copy, but you can read it on the web or download it easily.

EFF(=Electronic Frontier Foundation)'s Guide to the Internet, v. 3.0

Formerly known as The Big Dummy's Guide to the Internet. As this title implies, an introduction for everyone. Also somewhat dated (1995).

The Internet Tourbus

If you don't like to travel on the web by yourself and you are looking for a guided tour, check this out. If you sign up (tickets available at the web site), you will receive e-mail twice a week to point you in the right directions.

ILC Glossary of Internet Terms from Internet Literacy Consultants(tm)

This is a jewel. Who can possibly remember all the acronyms? Constantly updated, state-of-the-art with easy cross-references.

A Beginners's Guide to HTML

Produced by NCSA (National Center for Supercomputer Applications), it provides more than you need to know about HTML for your first paper assignment -- given how easy it has become to produce HTML documents using recent versions of standard word processing software. Of course, if you catch on, you may want some more technical information and to produce more intricate web pages you need to understand what goes on behind. Again, the guide is somewhat dated and does not reflect the latest (3.2) version of HTML.

The WWW Help Pages by Kevin Werbach

Wilbur (=HTML 3.2) by Web Design Group (WDG)

Both sites provide up-to-date information on HTML and designing web pages. Kevin Werbach serves as Counsel for New Technology Policy at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in Washington, D.C., and, as a hobby, he has shared his wide technical knowledge with the Internet community. An excellent site with links to similar sites including the WDG site listed above. The latter is more suited for students who are getting serious with web page design.

This is plenty. Don't feel that you have to follow all the leads. As you will discover, once you are on the web the sheer quantity of information can be overwhelming. But not to worry, we will discuss coping strategies in class.

For the second and third phase of the class -- when we move towards reflection and the social implications of these technological innovations -- the literature is not as plentiful and often rather idiosyncratic. That things will change dramatically seems certain, where we will end up with all this, however, is far from obvious. I list a selection of (mostly) more recent titles for you to consider as background reading. Unfortunately, most of these titles are still not available in the Hunter library as of late July 1997, but most are available at other CUNY campuses (as a rule of thumb, Brooklyn and Baruch are pretty well stocked in this area). Also, I have not had a chance to review all the titles in detail, some of the annotations below are based on information found in databases like the "Book Review Digest" (available through CUNYPLUS).

Howard Rheingold. 1994 (1993). The Virtual Community. New York: Harper ($13)

A cyber activist, Rheingold is an influential voice coming from the computer counterculture. In the true spirit of unrestricted information flow, he has made the full text of the book available on the Internet. The paperback edition is cheap, but if money is a problem, you can get it for free on the web. You may also want to visit his current project ElectricMinds.

Peter Ludlow (ed). 1996. High Noon on the Electronic Frontier: Conceptual Issues in Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ($24)

A collection of essays dealing with a wide array of issues from encryption and privacy to self and community online. Ludlow is a philosophy professor at SUNY Stony Brook. A large portion of the edited volume is also available for free on the Internet.

Steven G. Jones (ed). 1995. Cybersociety: Computer-Mediated Communication and Community. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. ($24)

As of July 1997, this title was out of stock, but the fourth printing is due in the fall. Several pieces in this volumes have been favorably reviewed in David Silver's Cyberculture: An Annotated Bibliography.

Nicholas Negroponte. 1995. Being Digital. New York: Knopf

Negroponte is director of MIT's Media Lab, knowledgeable, and a forceful spokesman for the new cyber age. According to critics, he fails to consider the potential for negative social impact. One of the few titles available in the Hunter library.

Sherry Turkle. 1995. Life on the Screen -- Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster. ($25)

Since everybody cites her work and most of the reviews are raving, I should not fail to include this title. Is it just professional envy (Turkle is a professor at MIT), or why am I not impressed?

Manuel Castells. 1996. (Vol. I of The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture). London: Blackwell.

Rob Shields (ed). 1996. Cultures of Internet : Virtual Spaces, Real Histories, Living Bodies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. ($23)

***

And here are several titles distinctly critical of cyber life:

James Brook and Iain A. Boal (eds). 1995. Resisting the Virtual Life : The Culture and Politics of Information. San Francisco: City Lights. ($14)

Clifford Stoll. 1995. Silicon Valley Snake Oil. New York: Anchor Books. ($14)

Mark Dery. 1996. Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century. New York: Grove Press. Excerpts on the Web.

Stephen L. Talbott. 1995. The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly. ($23)

And, some practical advice:

Daniel J. Barrett. 1996. Bandits on the Information Superhighway. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly. ($18)

***

In addition, to keep track of the latest, check the following sites dedicated to the study of cyber life:

And, finally, here are several sites that aim to transcend the traditional reliance on "linear information" (printed books and articles), where the form of communication is supposed to match the substance of the debate:

 
Weekly Schedule (subject to revision) 
CLASS DAYS CLASS TOPIC PAPERS/PROJECTS
Part 1: Technical Skills and Internet Explorations
Sep 4 Course overview; assessment of prior experience and technical skills Student suggestions for additional domains
Sep 8, 11 Win 95 Basics 
E-mail: Concepts and practical use at Hunter, mailer programs (Pine, Eudora, Netscape, Pegasus)
Preference poll and paper assignments
Sep 15, 18 Basic Web browsing using Netscape: Bookmarks, Downloads, Printing 
Search Strategies and Tools (Yahoo, Altavista, HotBot, Allinone, Magellan, more)
Web searches
Sep 22, 25 Web searching continued; Validation and Attribution of Web materials Web searches
Sep 29  Basic Web authoring: HTML concept and specifications Outline for first paper due
Oct 6, 9 Producing HTML documents: Netscape (4.0) Page Composer, WordPerfect 7/8, special HTML editors Write complete draft
Oct 16 Fancy HTML documents: graphics, sound, video Complete Draft in HTML format due
Oct 20, 23 Other Internet services: E-mail lists, Newsgroups (Usenet) Fine tuning of paper
Oct 27, 30 Interactive Internet services: Chat rooms, MUD, MOO, etc. Oct 30: Final draft due
Part 2: "Show and tell"
Nov 3, 6 Selected Presentations  Review all papers on class ERS 
Nov 10, 13 -- continued
Part 3: Reflections on the social implications
Nov 17, 20 Citizen and Government: More democracy? 
Grass-root Organizing vs. "Big Brother"
Readings to be announced
Nov 24, 25  Who owns/controls the Internet? 
Internet-for-free or Internet-for-fee? Censorship or Protection from Indecency? 
Readings to be announced
Dec 1, 4 Interpersonal relations in a networked global village: enriched or impoverished? Readings to be announced
Dec 8,11 Educational Opportunities: More equality?  Readings to be announced
Dec 15 Information Haves and Have-nots: A new cleavage? Dec 15: Deadline for second paper